One of the greatest transformations to have occurred thus far in my life is the practice of compassion. I use the term “practice of”, because it is a journey with no finish line. Rather, I think it is a journey in which one destination opens a path to a new, unseen and unknown destination.
I hesitate to share only because I don’t want to imply that I am perfect at this practice, or even good at it. In fact, it was and is an area of my life where I struggle(d), which has made my journey so much more meaningful. It began with compassion for myself and that is where I would recommend anyone start this journey – this practice of compassion. Start with the self.
I was very successful in high school and college and earned many achievements. I was probably a little conceited as well. The walls of my bedroom as a high school and college student were peppered with plaques, trophies, accolades and pictures of performance related awards. I surrounded myself with constant reminders of my achievements. I wanted to remind myself and everyone else that I was somebody important. The result of this, I found later in life, was not a constant flow of affirmation and acceptance; it was quite the opposite. I began to focus on the second places, the spaces where no plaques hung, and the reminder that others out there were doing just as well as me – or better.
I wanted to be perfect. I wanted more titles. I wanted more security. I wanted more awards to convince myself that I was worthy – worthy of love and acceptance.
These plaques of fake oak and brass failed me. I found myself in a pretty dark place, and then further disaster struck — a failed engagement. A beautiful wedding was planned, but no wedding occurred.
What did these plaques and awards have to say? Nothing.
Through the support of loving friends and family, I realized I had been looking for love in all the wrong places. It wouldn’t be found engraved on anything material. Love would have to come from within. I forgave myself for my failures, but more importantly, I forgave myself for my quest for such shallow things. Then something amazing started to happen: I found myself underneath all that. I found me – an analytical, sarcastic, goofy young boy wanting more attention from this world. Somewhere along finding this person, again, I started to love him. Me.
I lose this boy from time to time. He gets lost in the craziness of this world. I’ll catch him trying to put more plaques on the wall or hiding his true self from others. I forgive him (myself), and remind him (me) that I was good enough for this world the day I took my first breath. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t hear. I couldn’t speak; and the world welcomed me as if I always belonged. Because I do.
And now after being on this journey for several months, a journey where I have found and loved my true self, I have seen that love start to turn towards others. When someone looks at me in anger, I find myself looking at them and searching for that same lost child, the one I hope they find as well. When I see someone terrified of their next career move and annoyingly blabbering about it, I see the scared little child in them. When I get in an argument, after I’ve checked myself and reminded myself that I am loved, I turn toward the other person. I try to see in them what brings value into this world, then I latch onto that.
Again, this doesn’t always happen. I am not perfect in this practice of compassion. But I have learned one simple principle that has helped me love others:
There is the love of God in me, and that allows me to love myself. And that same love of God is in everyone. We are all connected in that way.
Compassion is contagious. When I am in the right state of mind, I no longer see flawed human bodies stumbling around. I see beautiful beings. And when I can see others as beautiful, my hope is that others begin to see beauty in themselves as well.
In my journey, I have stopped focusing on the shadows, I now try and find the light, the beautiful light that makes us all human.
It is our humanity that gives us belonging.
This light is not something we journey toward, it is what illuminates our path.
This light is compassion.
Leading up to the 2014 Texas Student Leadership Forum, we plan to post one blog per week centered around the four tenets of the Forum. We invite anyone to contribute to the discussion – please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in writing. The application for the 2014 Forum can be found here.